Rice baseball opened its trip to Cuba with a shutout victory over professional team Artemisa. Less than 24 hours later, their plans drastically changed. Late Friday night, news broke that former Cuban leader Fidel Castro had died at age 90. The team, which embarked on a trip to the island nation last week, has suspended all of its scheduled games against teams from the Cuban Baseball Federation for the remainder of its journey.
Castro led Cuba from 1959 to 2006. During that time, he installed a socialist government and resisted attempts by the United States to compromise his power. Notably, his nation fought off the attempted Bay of Pigs Invasion and sparked the Cuban Missile Crisis when it allowed the Soviet Union to place nuclear missiles on the island. However, he was also accused of numerous human rights violations and oversaw a failing Cuban economy.
According to a press release from the baseball team, the games were canceled out of respect for Cuba’s mourning period. The mourning period will last until Dec. 4, the day of Castro’s state funeral, which is also the day the Owls leave the country. John Sullivan, Rice’s assistant director of athletic communications, said the team is making sure to be considerate to the Cuban people.
“The people, like the staff at our hotel, here are now way more somber for losing their longtime leader,” Sullivan said. “We're trying to be very, very respectful of that.”
The somber attitude of the Cuban people stands in direct contrast to the raucous celebrations that erupted in Miami following Castro’s death. There, Cuban Americans flooded the streets, banging pots and pans and singing the Cuban national anthem in celebration of the death of a person notorious for creating poor living conditions for the Cuban people and imprisoning or executing his enemies.
According to head coach Wayne Graham, the mood in Cuba is far different.
“It’s a somber time, and we’re sorry for them,” Graham said. “He was certainly one of the more influential leaders of the 20th century. Our goal is to be respectful of everybody’s opinions and feelings, and that’s what we’re doing.”
The team began its trip last Wednesday and held a practice on Thanksgiving Day to prepare for the next day’s game against Cuban Baseball Federation team Artemisa. The Owls, playing with jerseys reading “Los Buhos,” won 4-0 behind six shutout innings from junior pitcher Dane Myers and three innings from freshman pitcher Addison Moss. Senior left fielder Dayne Wunderlich and sophomore shortstop Ford Proctor each added three hits for the Owls.
Graham said he was pleasantly surprised by Rice’s performance.
“It’s hard to believe that we played as well as we did,” Graham said. “We had no errors, the pitching was great and we hit the ball harder than the four runs we scored. It was a very pleasing outing.”
Unfortunately, it was the only game the Owls played in Cuba. Although the team is done with its baseball activities, it is continuing with the cultural aspects of the tour. The players are in a weeklong class while abroad and are taking tours of historical sites and cultural centers of the nation. The trip will continue until the Owls return home on Dec. 4.